Monday, September 1, 2008

Kindle Classroom Interview with Teacher Chris Edwards

I mentioned this story in an earlier post and I'm thrilled that Chris Edwards, teacher of World History at Fishers High School, agreed to the following blog interview about his experience so far with Kindles in the classroom.

JW: What's your vision for how you want to utilize the Kindle in your classroom?

CE: For right now, I just have five Kindles so the only way I can really utilize them is by setting the classroom up in stations. The students go to one of three stations and they have 10-15 minutes to complete whatever activity I have set up there and then we rotate. Normally, I use the Kindle Web feature because it is very easy for me to find a relevant current events topic that ties in with whatever we are studying.

The reason I like to use the Kindles is because it is a constant reminder of one of the main themes of the class and that is that the compilation of human knowledge has been a key feature in world history. Every time knowledge was translated into a single language and stored in one space the culture that had access to it took a great leap forward. This occurred at the library at Alexandria for the Hellenes, at the House of Wisdom in Iraq for the Arabs, and in Latin speaking Western Europe for the Christian monks.

The language that the world's information was translated into then was Greek, Arabic, and Latin. Now, remarkably, through Amazon and Google, the world's knowledge is being translated into binary code (1, by the way was invented by the Sumerians, and 0 by the Indians in Gupta dynasty, so that's historically related) and is cheap and accessible.

I believe that by using the Kindle we're not just playing with a toy but are reinforcing the idea that we are a part of an historical story that is still unfolding.

JW: You've undoubtedly been using a Kindle both in and out of the classroom for a bit now. What sort of content are you reading on it?

CE: The Kindle is very versatile. I like to read international news so I subscribe to the International Herald Tribune and read it every day. I also take advantage of the audiobook download feature and listen to books, mostly shorter nonfiction works, on my commute.

The Kindle has not taken the place of my traditional book reading, but it has allowed me to do more reading. I don't read history on it because I like to be able to flip back and forth with paper pages and make pen marks. Right now I have some nonfiction books on it and a couple of spy novels.

JW: What's been the reaction of the kids in your class to the Kindle? Are they pretty comfortable with it?

CE: The students really seem to be reacting well to the Kindles. This generation is used to dealing with new technologies and I think they see the value in learning to work with something like this. They also respond well to the station techniques because they know that every 10 or 15 minutes there will be a transition where they can stand up and stretch. Besides, let's face it, there's something very Harry Potterish about the Kindle. I mean, we're pulling information out of the air and it just sort of appears. That's pretty cool.

JW: There's been a lot of talk about the Kindle (or some other e-book device) becoming a huge hit for textbook reading and storage. With the functionality you see on the Kindle today, do you feel that's a viable short term solution? Are there any features you feel would need to be added to the Kindle to better enable classroom use like this?

CE: This is a really interesting question because no school district is going to want to make a heavy investment in something that is going to become obsolete. I mean, if the Kindle takes off, this is going to make some school districts who have invested in laptops for their students feel a little foolish.

Practically speaking, there is no way that any district 10 years from now is going to be able to resist buying a $200 Kindle for their students at the beginning of their 7th grade year and then simply buying textbook updates as the student progresses. The money saved and hassle avoided will be tremendous.

I look at the Kindle as a kind of transitional species. Certainly textbook downloading is going to be an important feature for the Kindle, but I actually don't think that it will be necessary to buy textbooks with them. I really think that humanity is quickly moving toward compiling a kind of Comprehensive Human Memory (CHM) that will exist in binary code form and will, metaphorically, just kind of float above us. This is kind of the case now. We're simply realizing how to access it. It is very likely that in 20 years we will all be carrying blue-tooth type devices that will access this CHM and bring us whatever facts we need on command.

If I had a class set of Kindles with Internet access I would not, strictly speaking, need a textbook. I could simply access sites that have the historical information I'm looking for and use my state standards as a road map. Textbook companies will, of course, evolve with this. If they are going to compete they are going to have to figure out how to make Kindle books accessible and cheap.

I actually think the issue with the Kindle will not be that there will be a temptation to add too many features. A Kindle is not a computer; it's a reader. It needs to stay that way for classroom use. If it had email or video games that distracts from the reading and as a teacher, I wouldn't want it.

If you'll allow me to get a little Sci-fi for a moment, it seems to me that even though the world's knowledge is accumulating, we've got a huge bottleneck when it comes to actually getting that knowledge into the brain. We still have to listen and read, etc. We have to be educated. We have seen a huge leap recently in how we can compile and access information, but at some point somebody is going to focus on how to speed up the "brain download" process. The brain, essentially, is a synthesizing machine. It can see patterns and think across disciplines. We don't have good memories. Computers are the opposite of this. At some point we'll bridge the gap and when that happens the Kindle will be looked upon as part of that process in the same way that Diderot's encyclopedia or Sumerian writing is.

JW: What advice can you offer other teachers out there who are considering using the Kindle in their classrooms?

CE: Be enthusiastic about the Kindle. Explain that it's not just a new piece of technology but that it is a part of an expanding aspect of human history. Students are, amazingly, pulling information out of thin air on command. I try to imagine what the ancient Greeks would have made of it. You know, people used to have to get permission to touch a scroll in a library. Just a few centuries ago very few people were literate and when reading was done it was only done out loud, for announcements! Books have been burned and banned etc. but now information is accessible, cheap, and floating through the air!

Have fun with the Kindles, but be appreciative of what they are and what they mean would be my advice.


Fat Knowledge said...

I think there is a lot of promise in a "one e-book per student" future. See my thoughts here on what kind of hardware it will take and how to get there.